I met a man who shared his frustration at not being able to get a job because he had a criminal record. I was completely ignorant of anything to do with that area of criminal justice and its implications but it struck a cord inside my heart. That same afternoon, I was icing my daughters 21st birthday cake and pondered this man’s problem and how it could be solved, and the idea came to me that if it was so difficult for people with a criminal record to get a job in a regular mainstream establishment, then why not set up specific businesses that will employ them?
So my rather unexpected journey began. I started to ask questions and have meetings with numerous organisations that were working in criminal justice. Surely someone was doing this here in Edinburgh? But to my amazement, the idea of setting up a business specifically to employ people with criminal convictions seemed to be almost unheard of here in Scotland.
Early on in the process, I was asked the question “why are you doing this Josee?”, I realised that there was a reason why I had this inexplicable passion to do something.
The seeds for this had already been planted, and had just begun to germinate. For a seed to grow, first it has to die. And that is exactly what happened in August 2006., when my 17 year old son Bobby was killed whilst joy-riding on a stolen motorbike. It started when he began to hang around with a group of local youths from a nearby council estate who were ‘getting into trouble’, dabbling with drugs and committing crimes. At the time they were known as the YLT (Young Leith Team or Terrors). Despite our best efforts to steer him away from them, he became totally immersed in this lifestyle and went from being a model pupil at school with a bright future ahead of him, to becoming a troubled teen with a string of criminal convictions. His death however, led to a change in perspective of the young people whom he had called his friends. They rallied in their support of our family, and shared our journey of grief in a way that we had never imagined. Their love and loyalty for our son was truly amazing and remains to this day. And, so I was able to see them in a different light altogether. Beyond the rough and tough exterior, I was able to see their hearts of gold.
It was when I realised the connection between unemployment and re-offending, that I understood why so many my sons’ friends were caught up in this cycle.
So this was the reason why I was “doing this”. For those who needed a second chance or a chance they’d never had before; for those who had hidden potential that was untapped and unrecognised even by themselves; for those who had been brought up without the same opportunities as others because of where they grew up.
Something deep inside me came alive when I discovered that I was able to relate and empathise with many in this sphere, and my decision to do something about it began to inspire others to action. So we started Freedom Unlimited Enterprises. To set prisoners free, to inspire change in the face of the impossible, to change perspectives, to guide people to their unique purpose in life, and to give hope.
The accidental social entrepreneur and the business…
The next step was to figure out the business and so our foray into social enterprise began. It was another completely unknown territory to discover, but a very necessary, exciting and painful part of the journey. Those ‘in the know’ advised us that we should be a social enterprise. We stated with what we had in our hands, our own skill set and began planning and building. It’s been a journey of learning and gaining experience and knowledge about the Social enterprise world. It’s been extremely challenging and has come with many sacrifices being made by the people involved in the start-up but we now have two businesses.
‘Seamless Transitions’, a sewing business that mainly makes high class eco-friendly cushions, and a wood workshop that uses reclaimed wood to make a variety of hand crafted products. Both are underpinned by our empowering trademark, “Crafted with Conviction”™
The emerging change agent networker…
“The what?” you may ask. A change agent is someone who is presented with a problem, sees the root cause, finds the solution and implements it so it can have the greatest effect where its most needed. Unemployment is one of the main reasons why people re-offend, but criminal behaviour has many root causes that are deep and complex. The solution is not as simple as merely giving someone a job.
In my personal journey to help a group of lads, Freedom Unlimited Enterprises was born. It has become more than just a means to providing someone with a job. It has become a movement where those who hear the story of Bobby and the YLT are deeply touched, and inspired to do something to make a change somewhere in their own circle of influence.
Freedom Unlimited has the vision help all people who come into contact with us to become who they are truly meant to be: men and women with hearts of gold that are waiting to be transformed and released into their full potential. Men and women who dream the impossible and are not afraid to go for it. Men and women who dare to believe that they have everything inside them to succeed and have the courage to take the first step towards their goal. Men and women who want to leave the chains yesterday behind, and step forward into a new tomorrow.
Little steps with big ambition, changing the world one life at a time and doing it together with a connected network of people who have hope in a brighter future.